Post US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the question is not if, but when the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani falls. Even before the NATO troop pullout was completed, the Taliban offensive towards Kabul had shifted to a higher gear. They currently claim eighty-five percent of Afghanistan is already under their control, and the area is increasing on a daily basis.
The offensive so far has not seriously targeted major urban centers. The Taliban spokesperson had earlier stated in 2019, “Our position is clear. We want a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem.”
A Taliban delegation in Moscow said that the group would not attack provincial capitals even as news emerged that Taliban militants had attacked the capital of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told VOA the moratorium on attacking the cities was temporary.
– @LongWarJournal's time lapse map of the Taliban's gains in Afghanistan by district, from April 13 (the day before President Biden announced the withdrawal), and July 13. Dramatic gains in just 2 months, Taliban have nearly tripled district it controls, most in the north & west. pic.twitter.com/dGsxVKWum7
— Bill Roggio (@billroggio) July 14, 2021
Perhaps the Taliban do not want to follow their 1990s approach, where the capital Kabul was stormed and captured, resulting in massive bloodletting and destruction on both sides. Perhaps, learning from history, they want to adopt an indirect approach to realize their aim. Perhaps, the Taliban’s military strategy rests on capturing the bulk of the Afghan territory, isolating Kabul and other key cities putting them under virtual siege.
The desperation of the incumbent government, they hope, will lead to mass desertion of the Afghan National Army resulting in their disintegration, thus presenting Hobson’s choice to the current Afghan president and his team.
A victory of sorts?
Ashraf Ghani and his team can either flee the country or take shelter in the northern niches of the country that still remain under their control, leaving the Taliban as virtual rulers of Afghanistan, or the present government could acquiesce under duress and agree to a Loya Jirga which would almost certainly hand over power to the Taliban and possibly provide the Northern Alliance leadership amnesty, thus hoping to avoid the horrible end Dr. Najibullah, the former Afghan President, and his cohorts were meted out after Kabul fell in 1996.
The status quo ante of 1996 would then be achieved without a brutal civil war. An incremental approach that would lead to a Jirga decision in favor of the Taliban might also be regarded as face-saving for the Americans. The relatively peaceful transfer of power could then be spun as a success story thanks to their efforts and sacrifices and proclaim victory of sorts.
Will a quasi-democratic rise to power by the Taliban appease the Americans enough to leave Afghanistan well alone, as long as it meets the Obama’s strategy switch on Afghanistan from ‘a good war’ to ‘Afghan good enough? Should that occur, Pakistan would have dodged a bullet.
Air Cdre (Retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh), and national newspapers including Dawn, The News, and The Nation. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.